Disasters come in a full spectrum of sizes and forms. Some may be personal, like a divorce, a death in the family, or the loss of a job. Others may be regional, national, or global. It could come as a cataclysmic natural disaster, an act of terror, or as a slowly crumbling economic collapse. Disasters may be brief or endure for a lifetime. Even if you are ready for the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max or The Book of Eli, you could find out that you are totally unprepared for something less severe but more realistic.
Here are the top ten things that can help make any disaster more comfortable and survivable.
10. A determined mindset. When you’re done falling to pieces, you need to pick yourself up and pull it together for the long recovery process. Accept the catastrophe and be ready for the hard work of overcoming it. This includes hardening your emotions for a while. You’ve seen how people, in movies and real life, suck it up and do what needs to be done in an emergency. Then, when they are back on safe ground, they melt down into a puddle of jelly. That’s fine, but don’t be a bowl of jelly when there is work to be done.
9. Pay off all your bills. Bills are a ball and chain that tie you to your present situation and limit your options and mobility. You can’t leave town to stay with an ailing parent for a few weeks if it means you will lose your car. You can’t drop everything and leave a bad situation at home or at work if you are tied to a bunch of monthly obligations. You can’t take advantage of sudden opportunities to improve your life. So, break the chains and get out of debt.
8. A portable emergency bag. You might have a fully stocked underground shelter, but that won’t do you any good if you need to make a quick getaway. You need something packed and ready to go that you can grab and run. It should include a blanket, clothing, some food, money, and hygiene supplies. You may want to include a laptop, maps, phone numbers (including lawyers and doctors), passports, and a credit card with an unused line of credit. You might even want some magazines or travel games.
Just keep it small and ready. If flood waters are rising slowly, you will have more time for packing big suitcases and boxes, but you need an emergency bag ready to go. You never know when you might get evicted or your life will be endangered by a crazy ex, loan sharks, or a disgruntled subordinate at work.
7. A rainy day fund. Money has a way of taking the rough edges off of most any kind of problem, so sock away as much cold cash as you can. You may find yourself in need of unexpected medical or funeral expenses. You might require an extended stay in a hotel if your home is destroyed or the sheriff throws you out—or even if your spouse gives you the boot. Legal expenses, bailing out a child or relative, or even a new engine for your car so you can get to work are a few of the things that can rear their ugly heads without notice so be prepared.
6. Skills. Take some time now to learn how to fix things, build a fire, make a shelter out of nothing, clean a fish, purify water for drinking—whatever might come in handy if you are living out of campgrounds or in the wild. Know a few basic first-aid techniques. And, for Pete’s sake, learn how to change a tire.
5. Friends in deed. Help others now, when you can, so you will have favors to call in when you are the one who needs help. You might need a place to stay or hide for a while, wheels, fast cash, or a lift to the train station. Keep your friends close and dear.
4. A source of passive or extra income. When it hits the fan, you need time and freedom. Sometimes, you need a lot of it. An emotionally crippling family tragedy can require you to cocoon away from the workplace. You may need to spend hours in a hospital waiting room or make arrangements with an undertaker. You might need to get out of town. It might be a great time to have an automated online business or rental income, or some other way of keeping even a little money coming in.
3. Know things. Know where and how to get legal and medical advice in a hurry. Bone up on a few legal procedures, especially if you think you might be facing foreclosure, divorce, criminal charges, or custody hearings. Know what the policies and penalties are regarding your 401k and other investments, and have the paperwork you need to get at them.
2. A plan. Be prepared for the unexpected. Your whole company could get bought out or just fold up its tent tomorrow. Your spouse could take a hike. Your home could be blown away. Your town could be under siege by vampires or aliens when you wake up. (Okay, maybe I’ve been watching too many movies lately.) But disasters come in many guises—natural, personal, financial, political. Ask yourself what you would do if each of these scenarios came to pass, and make a plan to deal with that new reality.
1. A reason to believe. Faith—whether it is in a Higher Power, a meaning to all the madness, or the depth of the human spirit and character—is the number one thing that survivors of many kinds of calamites say got them through the darkest times. When there’s nothing to hold onto, you need a reason to believe that the struggle is worth it.
Other articles in this issue: